Is This The End Of The Corporate Dress Code?

ByHanover Team
Posting date: 16 February 2022

Corporate workwear and uniform dress codes have remained at the heart of many traditional companies, from banks to insurance firms. Conveying status and professionalism, suits have been a mark of success and formality, and they’ve demanded a certain level of respect.

However, in an age when forward-thinking tech giants champion hoodies and sports shoes, is the corporate dress code still relevant? And with the unprecedented shift in working cultures and attitudes around the globe over the last two years, has the suit come to the end of its reign?

Recent trends have seen a sharp decline in those who favour formal wear for work. In 2020, clothing sales slumped by 25%, a drop caused by extended lockdowns and the freedom from working wardrobes for those at home. And when it comes to what workers actually want, 72% of professionals have prioritised comfort over the last 12 months, swapping out the suit for garments with elasticated waists, according to research carried out by Stitch Fix.

However, workwear has been intrinsically tied to fashion trends since time immemorial, and this means that while clothing might become more comfortable, there’s no reason it won’t still look professional. Despite many fashion houses flipping to athleisure during the height of lockdown restrictions in order to survive, a recent article from Vogue Business reports that glamour is back, but with a balance. According to various consumer trends, comfort is key.

Employees may want casual wear - but what does this mean?

According to the ONS, 8.4 million people were completing their daily work duties from their place of residence at some point during 2020 in the UK alone. That’s 8.4 million people who were suddenly free from time-consuming commuting and the often uncomfortable constraints of office workwear. Rather than saving their softs for casual Friday, they were free to work in whatever they chose - and they chose softer silhouettes, comfortable fabrics and relaxed tailoring.

Despite the huge shift in the last 18 months, this isn’t actually an entirely new trend. In early 2019, Goldman Sachs announced plans to relax their dress codes, followed swiftly by Virgin Atlantic, who scrapped the make-up requirement for their female staff members and allowed them to opt for trousers rather than skirts.

In terms of what this means for organisations and their employees, taking a more relaxed approach to workwear can:

  • Promote gender equality 
  • Allow employees to feel more relaxed and confident 
  • Increase overall morale and employee wellbeing 
  • Make your organisation more appealing to prospective talent

How workwear has changed

The change in workwear runs much deeper than working from home requirements and transient fashion trends. Employee attitudes to what they wear for work can stem from much larger cultural events, such as the Me Too movement, gender equality beliefs and even their own personal medical requirements.

While the exact workwear policies of organisations are likely to differ, many of them want their employee clothing choices to reflect and represent the personality of their brand. For example, Google and Facebook are two companies that are known for their relaxed, youthful approach to dress codes, while firms in the banking and legal industries continue to favour a more tailored look.

The challenges of standardising corporate workwear

There are a few key things to keep in mind when implementing a new dress code or attempting to standardise one. The first, and possibly the most important, is to manage them around your clients’ expectations. For example, in circumstances where you are providing clients with financial or legal advice, is the sudden implementation of relaxed workwear likely to cause issues with trust? Will the client still feel like their assets are going to be protected?

Secondly, you must balance these expectations with your employee wellbeing. Are there grounds for reaching a ‘happy medium’ between formal and casual wear? Are you currently upholding stringent policies that don’t need to be adhered to any longer? (For example, Virgin’s rules around female dress codes that have been recently dropped.)

Providing you’re able to manage client expectations when doing so, there’s no reason that your employees can’t make more comfortable workwear choices without looking any less professional. As I explored above, fashion houses and high-street retailers are also following suit, making waistlines more manageable and silhouettes slightly softer.

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